Thursday, January 30, 2014.
There was a lack of energy in the stands last night, and it occasionally seeped onto the floor at Taco Bell Arena. Maybe it was because of the humongous games on the horizon, or maybe fans were wary of freezing rain returning, but only 5,006 showed up for Boise State’s 69-58 win over Air Force. Of course, just four years ago that would have been a great home crowd. At any rate, the Broncos had enough oomph for a victory. It wasn’t a game of runs—rather, it was a case of Boise State building a small early lead and gradually extending it during the evening. The three-pointer tacked on an extra point here and there, thanks to Jeff Elorriaga in the first half with three treys and Anthony Drmic from just before the intermission and on from there—three more triples.
It wasn’t exactly a work of art, but the win over Air Force was a necessity, and it pushes Boise State’s record to 15-6 overall and 5-3 in the Mountain West. Derrick Marks didn’t have his usual pizzazz and scored only five points, with just one field goal. Senior Thomas Bropleh did his best Marks impression off the bench, though, scoring seven straight points in the first half to give the Broncos some separation. Bropleh had 13 points on the night. The Broncos were dialed in enough defensively to frustrate the Falcons. The visitors didn’t miss many of their patented back-cuts, but they did miss a lot of layups and clanked 10 free throw attempts.
With 16 points and 13 rebounds, Ryan Watkins collected his fifth straight double-double, the longest streak at Boise State since Arnell Jones put five together during the Broncos’ 24-6 season 26 years ago. Watkins has gotten in the habit of going after any ball, anywhere, anytime. And the unassuming senior passed Tanoka Beard on Boise State’s career rebound list last night, moving into the No. 5 spot. Beard was a pretty good rebounder. Coach Leon Rice marvels at what Watkins is doing in this, his final season. “I’m still surprised by it, because it’s so special,” said Rice on his KBOI postgame show.
Next for Boise State is a trip Saturday night to UNLV, which routed San Jose State on the road last night, 70-46. The Rebels miss Anthony Bennett, last season’s Mountain West Freshman of the Year who went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. But UNLV’s loss has not been Cleveland’s gain. Bennett’s being labeled a colossal bust, as he’s seeing the floor less than 11 minutes per game with averages just 2.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. Some think he should go to the D-League to work on his game. This, again, is the No. 1 overall pick. What’s the problem? “You need to be in the gym before the gym opens, you should be there after the gym closes,” Hall of Famer Gary Payton said recently on Fox Sports Live. “You came in overweight. You look fat. Get in shape, get ready, you need to prove yourself.”
With National Letter Of Intent Day just six days away, Boise State still has some needs to fill in its recruiting class. But there was none more scrutinized than quarterback, and KTVB’s Jay Tust reported last night that the Broncos now have a freshman QB for 2014, Alex Ogle of Jensen Beach, FL. New offensive coordinator Mike Sanford was in Florida yesterday to watch the 6-3, 196-pounder work out—then offered him a scholarship and got the commitment. Ogle joins junior college transfer quarterback Tommy Stuart in the new class. Stuart may end up being a preferred walkon; perhaps that will be cleared up next Wednesday.
Boise State is not raising football season ticket prices for the first time in more than a decade, and that’s good timing for Bronco fans. Luck of the draw resulted in a weak home slate in 2013, the key reason behind a drop in attendance from 35,404 per game to 34,366. The payoff comes this year as the meter pegs the other way. All six blue turf opponents made bowl games last season, including four that can be considered rivals: Fresno State, BYU, San Diego State and Utah State. Sun Belt co-champion Louisiana-Lafayette and up-and-coming Colorado State are also headed to Bronco Stadium. Season tickets go on sale Monday.
Going into Super Bowl XLVIII, so much is being made of Denver tight end Julius Thomas’ basketball background—and the fact he played in two NCAA Tournaments for Portland State. So I looked it up, since one of those Big Dances had to be in Taco Bell Arena. It was 2009, the last time the tournament came to Boise, when the Vikings lost 77-59 in the first round to Xavier. Thomas played 15 minutes and went scoreless (he didn’t take a shot) while pulling down three rebounds. So there you have it. Thomas, of course, transitioned to football and was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Broncos. He had one catch as a rookie, exactly zero in 2012, and 65 this season for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Idaho Steelheads’ goaltending situation gets more interesting every day. With Pat Nagle recalled to the AHL’s Texas Stars, the Steelheads acquired netminder Brad Phillips from the Elmira Jackals Tuesday to join another newcomer, Josh Watson. Phillips got the start for Idaho in Anchorage last night against Alaska and fared well early. He already had 11 saves less than eight minutes into the game, but he was injured twisting back into the goal to prevent an Aces shot attempt. Watson came on to clock 31 more saves for the Steelies, but two Alaska shots found net, and the Aces won, 2-1. The Aces outshot the Steelheads 44-25. The two teams meet again tomorrow night and Saturday night.
The Idaho Stampede were hungry for a win last night, and they delivered, rallying past Santa Cruz 99-95 in CenturyLink Arena. The Stampede saw three players top the 20-point mark, as Dee Bost scored 24 points, Kevin Murphy 23, and Pierre Jackson a modest (by his standards) 22. Former L.A. Laker Derrick Caracter joined the Stamps yesterday and got into the game for 10½ minutes last night. He scored only one point but pulled down six rebounds. Caracter, who played four games for the Stampede in 2011-12, most recently played for BC Pieno in Lithuania before returning to the D-League. The Stampede host the L.A. D-Fenders tomorrow night and Saturday night.
Last year, Graham DeLaet reached the $800,000 mark in season earnings after his 14th tournament, the Byron Nelson Championship in May. The former Boise State star is there after just five events this season, sitting at $815,667 following his tie for second last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. DeLaet tees off today at the Phoenix Open with $5,680,873 in career earnings on the PGA Tour. How do you like them Canadian apples? By the way, Boise State alum Troy Merritt isn’t playing this week.
This Day In Sports…January 30, 2004, 10 years ago today:
The Mountain West Conference extends—and TCU accepts—an invitation to join the league in 2005. It was a disappointing day for Boise State, which had hoped to be included in the Mountain West’s expansion. Commissioner Craig Thompson said the conference’s expansion talks will “at least pause, or cease”, while BSU president Robert Kustra tried to mobilize the money it would take to make the school a viable candidate in the future.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)